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Quantifying the Epidemic of Prescription Opioid Overdose Deaths

Source: US National Library of Medicine | National Institue of Health

Puja Seth, PhD,Rose A. Rudd, MSPH, Rita K. Noonan, PhD, and Tamara M. Haegerich, PhD

In 2016, 63 632 persons died of a drug overdose in the United States; 66.4% (42 249) involved an opioid.1 Opioid-involved deaths include prescription opioid analgesics (e.g., morphine, oxycodone), illicit opioids (e.g., heroin, illicitly manufactured fentanyl [IMF]), or both. Although prescription and illicit opioid overdoses are closely entwined,2 it is important to differentiate the deaths to craft appropriate prevention and response efforts. Unfortunately, disentangling these deaths is challenging because multiple drugs are often involved. Additionally, death certificate data do not specify whether the drugs were pharmaceutically manufactured and prescribed by a health care provider, pharmaceutically manufactured but not prescribed to the person (i.e., diverted prescriptions), or illicitly manufactured.